Community social characteristics and health at older ages: evidence from 156 religious communities

Catherine Bowen, Wittgenstein Centre (IIASA, VID/Ă–AW, WU)
Marc Luy, Vienna Institute of Demography

Several studies have found an association between individual health and the social characteristics of their communities, such as community cohesion, social capital, and trust amongst community members. However, interpreting the causality of the relationships has been difficult due to potential confounders, selection effects, and the conflation of compositional and true contextual effects which may have biased results. We reduced these problems by analyzing data from Catholic order members aged 50+ living together in religious communities. We used multi-level Group Actor-Partner Interdependence Models and cross-sectional questionnaire data (N=1041, k=156 communities, M=73.25 years) to test whether individuals’ health was associated with the level of social conflict and connectedness of community members over and above their own involvement in conflict and feelings of connectedness with other people. We tested whether the relationships between health and individual and community social characteristics varied by age and/or gender. Our results show that living in a community with higher levels of conflict was associated with worse health, especially at older ages. Personal involvement in conflict was unrelated to health. Women reported better health than men in communities with higher levels of connectedness. Higher connectedness was associated with better health, especially among men. These findings suggest that living in communities with higher levels of conflict is negatively related to health and that gender differences in health are influenced by community connectedness. The results offer further evidence that at least some community social characteristics are causally related to health.

See extended abstract

 Presented in Session 89. Health in contexts